Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ok, What's The Deal With Berowne?

...And by that I mean the spelling of his name. I get that Biron / Berowne are the same person, but what's the story on the change? I actually flipped through a Who's Who book at Borders the other day looking up Berowne, and he wasn't even listed under that name, not even a "See Biron."

To add a little more depth to the question, how about pronunciation? I found this via Google books :

Biron, or Berowne, as it appears in the early copies, is accented on the second syllable and rhymes with "moon".

Really? So those are both pronounced the same way? If I saw Biron I would assume was pronounced more like BYE-run.


Jon said...

It's a matter of how much one wants to modernize spelling. There are such things as old-spelling modern editions (one of the Oxford editions, for instance), which retain all the spelling in the sources (or make minor emendments like eliminating the long s). But most other editions modernize the spelling of most of the ordinary words and some of the proper names (at least regularizing them).

But how much? That's where editions and their editors differ and keep life interesting. Most of us are used to the mid-19th-century Cambridge edition (which also became the Globe edition -- I hope I'm remembering all this right), as it's long been public domain and could be reprinted cheaply by any publisher that cared to. And it modernizes most of the older spellings, but not all, quite arbitrarily. The modern-spelling Oxford edition goes much further, rightly in my opinion.

Anyway, getting back to Berowne. That's the Folio spelling. Many editions have retained it. Others have decided to use Biron, as the French name Shakespeare was probably aiming at. And interestingly, some editions that leave most of the other names unchanged have made the Biron emendation. I recall a paperback student's guide to Shakespeare that gave cast lists for all the plays, and all the names matched what was in my big single-volume edition (which used Cambridge) -- except they listed Biron, and I was used to Berowne. No idea why he got singled out.

One of the new Oxford spellings of which I heartily approve is Petruccio. Shakespeare clearly was spelling phonetically, but too many productions now (mis)apply authentic Italian pronunciation to render him Petrukio, rather than use the Anglo-American "ch" sound.

Jon said...

As this hasn't generated further comment, maybe I can venture to add that William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (to the Oxford Edition, by its editors) is one of the most engrossing pieces of reading I own. I continue to dip into it for one play or another.

It goes into questions I haven't seen conveyed with such clarity or in such depth elsewhere -- issues of transmission of texts, authorial revision, editorial responsibility (including changes that editors ought to make but mostly don't). And it offers line-by-line discussion of each point that arose in creating this edition. For those interested, as I am, it's treasure.